(CNN) — Floridians are still dealing with major flooding Saturday and likely will for days as they try to recover from deadly Hurricane Ian, expected to be the most expensive storm in the Sunshine State’s history.
At least 66 people are believed to have died because of Ian in Florida alone, and four people were killed in storm-related incidents in North Carolina, officials say. Ian also knocked out power for hundreds of thousands in the Carolinas Friday into early Saturday.
The largest impacts remain in Florida, where river flooding may continue inland well into next week, forecasters warn.
In western Florida’s Arcadia on Saturday morning — dozens of miles inland — river flooding still covered part of the town like a lake, making a state highway invisible and swallowing all but the roof of a gas station, a CNN crew there saw. Near Sarasota, a possible levee break forced officers to evacuate a neighborhood early Saturday over flooding concerns.
In hard-hit Fort Myers, where storm surge swallowed vehicles and many homes’ first levels, Rob Guarino is hosting friends in his high-rise apartment who lost everything.
“A few of them are staying with me now. They just have nowhere to go,” Guarino told CNN’s Boris Sanchez Saturday morning.
Ian, by Saturday afternoon a dissipating post-tropical cyclone raining on the central Appalachians, smashed into southwest Florida as a Category 4 hurricane Wednesday, pulverizing coastal homes and trapping residents with floodwaters, especially in the Fort Myers and Naples areas. It pushed inland into Thursday, bringing strong winds and damaging flooding to central and northeastern areas.
The hurricane then made another landfall Friday in South Carolina between Charleston and Myrtle Beach as a Category 1 storm, flooding homes and vehicles along the shoreline and eventually knocking out power for hundreds of thousands more in the Carolinas and Virginia.
Live updates: Recovery efforts begin in Florida and the Carolinas
In Florida’s Fort Myers Beach, where a furious storm surge wiped out homes and left little but debris, shaken survivors are coping with what they saw and mourning those they’ve lost.
Kevin Behen, who rode out the storm on the second floor of a building in Fort Myers Beach, told CNN Friday night he knew of two men who died making sure their wives escaped a home which had begun to flood.
“These guys pushed their wives out the windows to where a tree was,” Behen said. “They just looked at their wives and they said, ‘We can’t hold on anymore. We love you. Bye,’ and that was it.”
About 90% of the island “is pretty much gone,” Fort Myers Beach Town Councilman Dan Allers said Friday. “Unless you have a high-rise condo or a newer concrete home that is built to the same standards today, your house is pretty much gone.”
More than 1.4 million utility customers were without power Saturday morning in four states in Ian’s wake, including 1.2 million in Florida; more than 203,000 in North Carolina; 59,000 in Virginia; and 28,000 in South Carolina, according to PowerOutage.us.
Ian had weakened to a post-tropical cyclone by Friday night, and its center — with sustained winds of 25 mph — was near the North Carolina-Virginia state line at 11 a.m. Saturday.
It should dissipate by Saturday evening. By the storm’s end, it may have dumped 2 to 6 inches of rain across parts of the central Appalachians and coastal mid-Atlantic, the hurricane center said.
In South Carolina, Ian dumped 7 to nearly 10 inches of rain in some coastal areas, according to National Weather Service data.
How to help victims of Hurricane Ian
Fresh evacuations in Florida
A swath of destruction was cut across the Florida Peninsula Wednesday and Thursday, with communities along the southwestern coast facing the brunt of Ian’s storm surge at landfall. Sanibel and Captiva islands have been cut off from the mainland after parts of a causeway were obliterated by the storm.
In western Florida early Saturday, concerns over a possible levee break forced sheriff’s officers to go door-to-door in the Sarasota-area community of Hidden River to warn residents of possible flooding there, the sheriff’s office said.
Leaking water “affected a number of homes in that area (Hidden River) but it doesn’t go any further on than that, and residents were evacuated safely,” North Port Fire Chief Scott Titus said Saturday.
South of Hidden River, about 150 additional people also had to be evacuated because of intruding water in the city of North Port, which already had thousands of flooded homes, Titus said.
Numerous people in western Florida are telling tales of narrow escapes.
In Naples, Brandon and Dylan Barlow were clearing out their grandfather’s flooded home Saturday morning. Dylan, who lives nearby, recalled watching the storm from his own home and realizing a canal by their grandfather was rising too quickly for comfort.
“I didn’t ask him if we could pick him up; I told him we’re picking him up,” Dylan Barlow recalled Saturday. “So we took the car. We got to his house, and by the time we got him out of the house, there was already maybe 2 feet of water.
“And we drove back in the water, and it was very close, but we got him out of there and we got him back to my mom’s house safely.”
Those living in western Florida’s Charlotte County are “facing a tragedy” without homes, electricity or water supplies, said Claudette Smith, public information officer for the sheriff’s office.
“We need everything, to put it plain and simple. We need everything. We need all hands on deck,” Smith told CNN Friday. “The people who have come to our assistance have been tremendously helpful, but we do need everything.”
From Florida’s coastal shores to inland cities such as Orlando, dangerous flooding has forced locals into dire circumstances. In one Orlando neighborhood where deep water has covered roads, some residents traveled by boat to assist others.
A 12-mile portion of Interstate 75 in Sarasota County was closed in both directions due to the rising Myakka River, according to the Florida Department of Transportation Friday evening.
The US Coast Guard has rescued more than 275 people in Florida, according to Rear Adm. Brendan McPherson, and hundreds of additional rescues were being performed by teams from FEMA and local and state agencies. But post-storm conditions remain a huge challenge, he told CNN on Friday.
“We’re flying and we’re operating in areas that are unrecognizable. There’s no street signs. They don’t look like they used to look like. Buildings that were once benchmarks in the community are no longer there,” he said.
At least 66 deaths suspected to be related to Ian have been reported in Florida, including about 35 in Lee County, according to the sheriff there. The toll also includes 12 in Charlotte County, eight in Collier County, five in Volusia County, three in Sarasota County, one in Polk County, one in Lake County, one in Manatee County, according to officials.
Damage in the Carolinas
In North Carolina, four storm-related deaths were reported by Saturday afternoon, the governor’s office said, including a man who drowned when his truck went into a flooded swamp; two people who died in separate crashes; and a man who died of carbon monoxide poisoning after running a generator in a closed garage, the governor’s office said.
No deaths were reported in South Carolina, the governor there said.
“There is some damage, there’s some heartbreak, there’s work to be done,” Gov. Henry McMaster said Saturday. “But all in all, it’s a good story.”
The storm has flooded homes and submerged vehicles along South Carolina’s shoreline. Two piers — one in Pawleys Island and another in North Myrtle Beach — partially collapsed as high winds pushed water even higher.
Edgar Stephens, who manages the Cherry Grove Pier in North Myrtle Beach, was steps away when a 100-foot section of the pier crashed into the ocean. The people who own the pier are committed to rebuilding, Stephens said, but it could take months to obtain all the needed materials.
Authorities are also cataloging damage on South Carolina’s Pawleys Island, a coastal town roughly 70 miles north of Charleston. The biggest concern there, according to the mayor, is how to remove debris, so the island can be safe again.
“It was a Category 1 hurricane, but we experienced tremendous storm surge today, probably beyond what most people anticipated,” Mayor Brian Henry told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Friday.
“Most of us did not believe we would see the storm surge at 7-plus feet,” Henry said. “It’s beginning to recede, but we have a huge amount of water on the roadways and across the island.”
Pawleys Island residents are not allowed to return home until safety assessments are fully conducted Saturday, police said.
In Horry County, where North Myrtle Beach in located, crews began removing debris left by the storm. Officials are urging residents to remain home and to not drive.
“It’s a pretty scary sight,” Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune said of the hurricane. “I’m seeing way too many cars passing by. And I think people just don’t realize how dangerous it is to be out in these types of conditions. We’ve seen so many people’s cars get stuck, and emergency personnel has to go out and rescue people.”
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